Tuesday, June 28, 2016

State agencies not immune in property tax lawsuit

Last December, property owners on Sapelo Island sued McIntosh County and the State of Georgia for discrimination and neglect. The lawsuit is based largely on the allegation that the Geechee property owners are paying county property taxes based on soaring assessments without receiving services in exchange. The State of Georgia requested that the state be dropped from the lawsuit, partly on grounds of sovereign immunity. A federal judge recently ruled that most of Georgia's agencies, including the Department of Natural Resources, are not immune from being sued.

The news comes from the Associated Press:
Key Georgia Agencies Not Immune in Slave Descendant Lawsuit
By Russ Bynum
Associated Press SAVANNAH, Ga. — Jun 22, 2016, 5:18 PM ET
A federal judge ruled that key Georgia agencies are not immune from a lawsuit that claims one of the last Gullah-Geechee communities of slave descendants on the Southeast coast is being eroded by discrimination and neglect.
Residents and landowners from the tiny Hogg Hummock community on remote Sapelo Island sued the state and McIntosh County last December in U.S. District Court. The lawsuit says the enclave of about 50 black residents is shrinking rapidly as landowners are pressured to sell because they pay high property taxes yet receive few basic services...
Reachable only by boat from the mainland, the largely undeveloped barrier island about 60 miles south of Savannah has no schools, police, fire department or trash collection.
Attorneys for the state asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit. They argued the Department of Natural Resources, which manages most of Sapelo Island, and other agencies are immune under the 11th Amendment, which grants states broad protection from lawsuits in federal court.
In a ruling last Friday, Judge Lisa Godbey Wood in Brunswick granted immunity to just one agency — the Sapelo Island Heritage Authority — and ordered that it be dropped from the lawsuit. Other defendants including the Department of Natural Resources, Gov. Nathan Deal, McIntosh County, county Sheriff Stephen Jessup and the county Board of Tax Assessors still face civil claims.
However, the judge declared both the sheriff and the tax assessors immune from monetary damages in the case.
Wood is still considering other arguments for dismissal that are not related to immunity.

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